There are some bonds that even time is not strong enough to dissolve. When three men who have all previously served in the Great World War, find themselves at a Veteran’s old age home, they take to passing the time by sitting out on the back terrace that overlooks the French countryside. The stunning view of a cemetery and the poplar trees in the distance rouse their inspirations to hatch a cunning and courageous plan of escape. Revitalizing their youthful war-like notions of command, plotting, and action, the three heroes (and one statue of a dog) concoct a scheme to liberate them from the daily humdrum of birthdays celebrated by the nuns, tepid soup, and the droll happenings of the home. All this and a good barrel of laughs can be found as Everyman Theatre presents its final production at the Charles Street Theatre in Tom Stoppard’s Heroes.
Adapted from Gerald Sibleyras’ Le Vent de Peupliers, Director Donald Hicken brings three talented performers together to embody the ragged old salts upon the stage. Their comedic timing, and verbose shenanigans create for a wild and witty excursion into unknown territory. It’s a charming and humorous adventure that reminds the audience that life is what you make of it; and you can have a grand adventure even if you are confined to an Old Soldiers home and your quartet includes a stone dog.
Scenic Designer James Fouchard has truly outdone himself with the construction of this set. A grandiose sweeping terrace that belays elegance and class beyond compare is erected across the stage in warmed shades of sun-drenched orange and golden afternoon yellow; an appropriate color scheme to reflect the autumn of these veterans’ years. The tall columns, the marble steps, each detail refined and poised like the distinguished war heroes who sit upon the terrace, gazing off into wonders unseen, Fouchard paints the picture of pleasant with his design work; inviting the audience to retire their minds to a state of ease.
Watching these three men who have moved well past their prime is a treat. A rare comic gem is unearthed in their performance; playing off one another like three cantankerous old men; squabbles and conversations you would actually hear were you visiting one of them in a nursing home. They have their charms, their dirty talk, and their disagreements, all thoroughly grounded in reality — even if it is their own personal reality that includes the stone dog that moves — and convincing beyond a shadow of a doubt.
The newcomer, having only been at the home for six months is Gustave (Wil Love). More easily riled than the other two, Love is the epitome of a crotchety old man who has had too much prune juice and not enough sugar in his daily routine. His character at the beginning is largely pessimistic, finding little to be cheery about, but as the play progresses and their actions become more and more similar to those that the men were involved with in war time, Love’s character emerges from his cranky shell and bursts onto the scene as a commanding figure, deranged but determined to break free.
The eruption that occurs between Gustave and Henri is an epic battle, so much so that you would think it was the determining factor in World War I and not the debate of breaking out to Indo-China verses the hillside for a picnic. In the second act, Love’s character slides further into his derangement becoming even more comical in his actions, especially once he takes on the stone dog statue as a companion.
Henri (John Dow) who has been at the home for 25 years is the ray of sunlight amid the gloom of routine. His optimism is engrained in his nature and he would smile in the face of death, or sister Madeline — in this case both as it is often believed the two are synonymous. Dow creates a perfect foil for the disagreeable Gustave in the beginning and the voice of reason against his radical ideas later on. His temper flares equally as high when engaging in a rant with Love; the pair being an edgier and more insane version of the odd couple. Dow leads the brigade of ‘dirty old men talk’ with his enthusiasm over seeing a group of young school girls out on his daily constitutional, and reminds us all that old doesn’t mean dead in the sex department when he engages in the debate over which nuns are respectably pleasing to look at.
But the most hilarious of them all, even if he can’t remember it, is Philippe (Carl Schurr). Prone to fits of minute narcolepsy, Schurr’s character is not well because of the shrapnel in his brain. He maintains all of his faculties, except for when he thinks the dog is moving of its own accord or the terrace is pitching and rolling about like a ship tossed in a storm. Schurr masters the physicality of this unbalanced gentleman and matches his slightly confused facial expressions to the moments when appropriate. The best thing about his performance is his raving conviction; even if he’s only convinced himself, that the head nun is offing various residents based on their birthdays so that no two birthdays fall on the same date. This is a point that Schurr gets to extrapolate upon frequently, building up a series of scenes that are uproarious as he tries to evade the angel of death.
Together, these three men have a tight-knit working relationship, even if they often disagree. And while they may not make the most formidable band of brothers — as one is lame, one is “not well” one is deranged, and the fourth member is made of stone, they do make for one hell of an entertaining show.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission.
Heroes plays through December 2, 2012 at Everyman Theatre – 1727 N. Charles Street in Baltimore. This is the final production Everyman Theatre will perform at the Charles Street Theatre. The new theatre — located on Fayette Street — will open in January 2013. For tickets to the final Charles Street Theatre performance, call the box office at (410) 752-2208, or purchase them online.